No will or estate plan? Big problem for you and your heirs

Estate planning isn’t just for the wealthy. Financial advisors say that most Americans can benefit from it. Read on and see how you can benefit even if you are not worth millions.

Sarah O’Brien | Tuesday, 9 Aug 2016 | 7:50 AM ET

About 10 years ago, financial advisor Andrew Rafal was involved in helping a husband and wife create an estate plan. Six days after all the documents were in order and signed, the husband unexpectedly died from an aneurysm.

Thanks to the couple’s planning, the surviving wife was able to access and assume ownership of assets that otherwise would not have been available immediately.

“It would have been a very different situation if they hadn’t finalized their estate plan,” said Rafal, founder and president of Bayntree Wealth Advisors. “In a time of grieving, it’s one less thing to go through.”

While estate planning is often associated with the wealthy, financial advisors say that most Americans can benefit from it.

Senior man pensive

Lee Edwards | Getty Images

“It’s not just for the wealthy; it’s for all of us,” Rafal said. “And the earlier you start, the better.”

The most basic part of estate planning is a will, which more than half of Americans die without, according to various data. Advisors caution that dying intestate (having no will) will result in a state court deciding who gets your assets and, if you have children, who will care for them.

This means that if you have an unmarried partner or a favorite charity but no will, your assets won’t end up with them. Typically, the courts will pass on assets to your closest blood relatives, even if that wouldn’t have been your first choice.

“Everyone should have a will,” Rafal said. “It allows assets to go to beneficiaries you name. And if you have children who are minors, it names a guardian, which is extremely important.”

“As people go through different milestones in life, they need to change their beneficiaries. The beneficiary trumps any other estate planning you do.”-Andrew Rafal, founder and president of Bayntree Wealth Advisors

Another often-overlooked element of estate planning is updating beneficiaries on financial assets such as individual retirement accounts, 401(k) plans and life insurance policies. Regular bank accounts, too, should have beneficiaries listed on a payable-on-death form, also known as a POD, which your bank can supply.

“As people go through different milestones in life, they need to change their beneficiaries,” Rafal said, explaining, “If you had your parents listed and then you get married, those assets go to your parents. The beneficiary trumps any other estate planning you do.”

Certified financial planner Aaron Graham had a client who, after a divorce, updated his will to exclude his ex-wife. But because the client’s beneficiary designations were not updated, his ex-wife received his retirement account assets.

“Thankfully, the ex-wife was cooperative with the children of the deceased, but that’s not always the case,” said Graham, a financial advisor at Abacus Planning Group.

If no beneficiary is listed on those assets or the beneficiary has already passed away, the assets automatically go into probate. That’s the process by which all of your debt is paid off and then the remaining assets are distributed to heirs.

Each state has its own laws governing how long creditors have to make a claim against the decedent’s estate, but it typically is about six months to a year.

In the case of Rafal’s client, for instance, if the wife had not been listed as a beneficiary on her husband’s retirement and stock accounts, those assets would have first gone into probate and she would have had no claim to them until probate was completed.

Another part of estate planning involves what Rafal calls “lifetime management.” That is, for starters, creating legal documents that give powers of attorney to specific people in your life if you are alive but incapacitated.

A medical power of attorney lets the chosen person make important health-care decisions if you cannot; a person with durable power of attorney will act as your agent if you become unable to tend to your finances.

Granting your own wishes

Rafal said those people could be one and the same, but most often, people name two separate people.

“You might have someone who’s not great with finances but you trust the person to make medical decisions for you, or vice versa,” Rafal explained. “Durable power of attorney lets a person step in if you are unable to make decisions.”

Tied to that is a living will. It states your wishes if you are on life support or have a terminal condition.

“Do you want to prolong [your] life at all costs, or do you have specific instructions on when and how you would like for life-saving measures to be implemented?” Graham said.

The idea is that it will be your wishes, not someone else’s.

Have you made your annual financial checklist?

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As far as taxes go when it comes to estate planning, chances are, you won’t have to worry about the estate tax.

“It’s important to remember that 99 percent of all people don’t need to focus on the tax aspects of estate planning,” said Pete Lang, president of Lang Capital. “For the vast majority of the population, there will be no gift or estate tax.”

For 2016, the Internal Revenue Service will impose taxes on estates whose assets exceed $5.45 million. Roughly 0.02 percent of the population ends up paying the estate tax in any given year.

Estate planning also “helps protect against families fighting, or someone potentially contesting the wishes of the deceased,” Rafal said. “We’ve had new clients come to us who didn’t have proper planning, and their families have been torn apart.”

Rafal said it’s also important to make a list — handwritten or electronic — of all your assets and where they are.

“It makes it so much easier upon death or incapacity so your family isn’t running around wondering what you have or don’t have,” he said.

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Protecting Your House from Medicaid Estate Recovery

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After a Medicaid recipient dies, the state must attempt to recoup from his or her estate whatever benefits it paid for the recipient’s care. This is called “estate recovery.” For most Medicaid recipients, their house is the only asset available.

Life estates

For many people, setting up a “life estate” is the simplest and most appropriate alternative for protecting the home from estate recovery. A life estate is a form of joint ownership of property between two or more people. They each have an ownership interest in the property, but for different periods of time. The person holding the life estate possesses the property currently and for the rest of his or her life. The other owner has a current ownership interest but cannot take possession until the end of the life estate, which occurs at the death of the life estate holder.

Example: Jane gives a remainder interest in her house to her children, Robert and Mary, while retaining a life interest for herself. She carries this out through a simple deed. Thereafter, Jane, the life estate holder, has the right to live in the property or rent it out, collecting the rents for herself. On the other hand, she is responsible for the costs of maintenance and taxes on the property. In addition, the property cannot be sold to a third party without the cooperation of Robert and Mary, the remainder interest holders.

When Jane dies, the house will not go through probate, since at her death the ownership will pass automatically to the holders of the remainder interest, Robert and Mary. Although the property will not be included in Jane’s probate estate, it will be included in her taxable estate. The downside of this is that depending on the size of the estate and the state’s estate tax threshold, the property may be subject to estate taxation. The upside is that this can mean a significant reduction in the tax on capital gains when Robert and Mary sell the property because they will receive a “step up” in the property’s basis.

As with a transfer to a trust, the deed into a life estate can trigger a Medicaid ineligibility period of up to five years. To avoid a transfer penalty the individual purchasing the life estate must actually reside in the home for at least one year after the purchase.

Life estates are created simply by executing a deed conveying the remainder interest to another while retaining a life interest, as Jane did in this example. In many states, once the house passes to Robert and Mary, the state cannot recover against it for any Medicaid expenses Jane may have incurred.

Trusts

Another method of protecting the home from estate recovery is to transfer it to an irrevocable trust. Trusts provide more flexibility than life estates but are somewhat more complicated. Once the house is in the irrevocable trust, it cannot be taken out again. Although it can be sold, the proceeds must remain in the trust. This can protect more of the value of the house if it is sold. Further, if properly drafted, the later sale of the home while in this trust might allow the settlor, if he or she had met the residency requirements, to exclude up to $250,000 in taxable gain, an exclusion that would not be available if the owner had transferred the home outside of trust to a non-resident child or other third party before sale.

Contact me to find out what method will work best for you.

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It’s Official: Estate Exclusion to Rise to $5.45M in 2016

The IRS has announced that the basic estate tax exclusion amount for the estates of decedents dying during calendar year 2016 will be $5.45 million, up from $5.43 million for calendar year 2015.  This figure is in line with earlier projections.

Also, if the executor chooses to use the special use valuation method for qualified real property, the aggregate decrease in the value of the property resulting from the choice cannot exceed $1,110,000, up from $1,100,000 for 2015.

The increase in the estate tax exclusion means that the lifetime tax exclusion for gifts will also rise to $5.45 million, as will the generation-skipping transfer tax exemption. The annual gift tax exclusion will remain at $14,000 for 2016.

For details on many of these and other inflation adjustments to tax benefits, go to:https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/rp-15-53.pdf

[More on Estate Planning]

[Ten Reasons to Create an Estate Plan Now]

Regards,

Brian

 

Estate Exclusion to Rise to $5.45M in 2016

The IRS has announced that the basic estate tax exclusion amount for the estates of decedents dying during calendar year 2016 will be $5.45 million, up from $5.43 million for calendar year 2015.  This figure is in line with earlier projections.

Estate Planning, Raphan

Also, if the executor chooses to use the special use valuation method for qualified real property, the aggregate decrease in the value of the property resulting from the choice cannot exceed $1,110,000, up from $1,100,000 for 2015.

The increase in the estate tax exclusion means that the lifetime tax exclusion for gifts should also rise to $5.45 million, as will the generation-skipping transfer tax exemption. The annual gift tax exclusion will remain at $14,000 for 2016.

For details on many of these and other inflation adjustments to tax benefits, go to: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/rp-15-53.pdf

For more information on Estate Planning and a Free Estate Planing Guide click here.

When Should You Update Your Estate Plan?

Estate Planning, RaphanOnce you’ve created an estate plan, it is important to keep it up to date. You will need to revisit your plan after certain key life events.

Marriage

Whether it is your first or a later marriage, you will need to update your estate plan after you get married. A spouse does not automatically become your heir once you get married. Depending on state law, your spouse may get one-third to one-half of your estate, and the rest will go to other relatives. You need a will to spell out how much you wish your spouse to get.

Your estate plan will get more complicated if your marriage is not your first. You and your new spouse need to figure out where each of you wants your assets to go when you die. If you have children from a previous marriage, this can be a difficult discussion. There is no guarantee that if you leave your assets to your new spouse, he or she will provide for your children after you are gone. There are a number of options to ensure your children are provided for, including creating a trust for your children, making your children beneficiaries of life insurance policies, or giving your children joint ownership of property.

Even if you don’t have children, there may be family heirlooms or mementos that you want to keep in your family. For more information on estate planning before remarrying, click here.

Children

Once you have children, it is important to name a guardian for your children in your will. If you don’t name someone to act as guardian, the court will choose the guardian. Because the court doesn’t know your kids like you do, the person they choose may not be ideal. In addition to naming a guardian, you may also want to set up a trust for your children so that your assets are set aside for your children when they get older.

Similarly, when your children reach adulthood, you will want to update your plan to reflect the changes. They will no longer need a guardian, and they may not need a trust. You may even want your children to act as executors or hold a power of attorney.

Divorce or Death of a Spouse

If you get divorced or your spouse dies, you will need to revisit your entire estate plan. It is likely that your spouse is named in some capacity in your estate plan — for example, as beneficiary, executor, or power of attorney. If you have a trust, you will need to make sure your spouse is no longer a trustee or beneficiary of the trust. You will also need to change the beneficiary on your retirement plans and insurance policies.

Increase or Decrease in Assets

One part of estate planning is estate tax planning. When your estate is small, you don’t usually have to worry about estate taxes because only estates over a certain amount, depending on current state and federal law, are subject to estate taxes. As your estate grows, you may want to create a plan that minimizes your estate taxes. If you have a plan that focuses on tax planning, but you experience a decrease in assets, you may want to change your plan to focus on other things.

Other

Other reasons to have your estate plan updated could include:

  • You move to another state
  • Federal or state estate tax laws have changed
  • A guardian, executor, or trustee is no longer able to serve
  • You wish to change your beneficiaries
  • It has been more than 5 years since the plan has been reviewed by an attorney

Contact me, your elder law attorney to update your plan or if you have any questions.

Regards,

Brian

http://www.raphanlaw.com  Email: info@RaphanLaw.com

Three Reasons Why Joint Accounts May Be a Poor Estate Plan

Many people, especially seniors, see joint ownership of investment and bank accounts as a cheap and easy way to avoid probate since joint property passes automatically to the joint owner at death. Joint ownership can also be an easy way to plan for incapacity since the joint owner of accounts can pay bills and manage investments if the primary owner falls ill or suffers from dementia. These are all true benefits of joint ownership, but three potential drawbacks exist as well:

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  1. Risk. Joint owners of accounts have complete access and the ability to use the funds for their own purposes. Many elder law attorneys have seen children who are caring for their parents take money in payment without first making sure the amount is accepted by all the children. In addition, the funds are available to the creditors of all joint owners and could be considered as belonging to all joint owners should they apply for public benefits or financial aid.
  2. Inequity. If a senior has one or more children on certain accounts, but not all children, at her death some children may end up inheriting more than the others. While the senior may expect that all of the children will share equally, and often they do in such circumstances, there’s no guarantee. People with several children can maintain accounts with each, but they will have to constantly work to make sure the accounts are all at the same level, and there are no guarantees that this constant attention will work, especially if funds need to be drawn down to pay for care.
  3. The Unexpected. A system based on joint accounts can really fail if a child passes away before the parent. Then it may be necessary to seek conservatorship to manage the funds or they may ultimately pass to the surviving siblings with nothing or only a small portion going to the deceased child’s family. For example, a mother put her house in joint ownership with her son to avoid probate and Medicaid’s estate recovery claim. When the son died unexpectedly, the daughter-in-law was left high and dry despite having devoted the prior six years to caring for her husband’s mother.

Joint accounts do work well in two situations. First, when a senior has just one child and wants everything to go to him or her, joint accounts can be a simple way to provide for succession and asset management. It has some of the risks described above, but for many clients the risks are outweighed by the convenience of joint accounts.

Second, it can be useful to put one or more children on one’s checking account to pay customary bills and to have access to funds in the event of incapacity or death. Since these working accounts usually do not consist of the bulk of a client’s estate, the risks listed above are relatively minor.

For the rest of a senior’s assets, willstrusts and durable powers of attorney are much better planning tools. They do not put the senior’s assets at risk. They provide that the estate will be distributed as the senior wishes without constantly rejiggering account values or in the event of a child’s incapacity or death. And they provide for asset management in the event of the senior’s incapacity.

They provide that the estate will be distributed as the senior wishes without constantly rejiggering account values or in the event of a child’s incapacity or death. And they provide for asset management in the event of the senior’s incapacity.  To download a FREE GUIDE TO ESTATE PLANNING click here.

For more information about this article feel free to email me at info@raphanlaw.com

Regards, Brian

Heir Liable for Reimbursement of Mother’s Medicaid Expenses

medicare denialA California appeals court rules that the heir of an estate who sold her interest in her mother’s house to her brother is liable to the state for reimbursement of her mother’s Medicaid expensesEstate of Mays (Cal. App., 3d, No. C070568, June 30, 2014).

Medi-Cal (Medicaid) recipient Merver Mays died, leaving her house as her only asset. Ms. Mays’ daughter, Betty Bedford, petitioned the court to be appointed administrator of the estate, but she was never formally appointed because she didn’t pay the surety bond. The state filed a creditor’s claim against the estate for reimbursement of Medi-Cal expenses, and the court determined the claim was valid.  A dispute arose between Ms. Bedford and her brother, Roy Flemons, over ownership of the house. After the court determined Mr. Flemons owned a one-half interest in the property, Ms. Bedford and Mr. Flemons entered into an agreement in which Mr. Flemons paid Ms. Bedford $75,000 and transferred the house to his name.

The state petitioned the court for an order requiring Ms. Bedford to account for her administration of Ms. Mays’s estate. The court determined Ms. Bedford was liable to the state for the amount she received from Mr. Flemons because although she wasn’t formally appointed administrator, she was acting as administrator. Ms. Bedford appealed.

The California Court of Appeal, 3rd Appellate District, affirms on different grounds. The court rules that Ms. Bedford cannot be held liable due to her failure as administrator of the estate because she was never formally appointed administrator. However, the court holds that Ms. Bedford is liable as an heir of the estate who received estate property. According to the court, Ms. Bedford’s settlement with Mr. Flemons was “essentially an end-run around the creditor’s claim and the estate process” and “the $75,000 payment represented proceeds of the estate that would otherwise be available to satisfy creditors’ claims.”

Planning wisely, accurate and legally is key in Medicaid Planning. Make sure you use an attorney with experience, knowledge and is extremely familiar with rules in your state. Read 8 Medicaid Planning Mistakes to Avoid by clicking here.  You can also download a FREE GUIDE to Medicaid’s Asset Transfer Rules on the right hand column of this page on my website.

If you have any questions regarding Medicaid Planning feel free to give me a call.

Regards, Brian

212-268-8200  www.RaphanLaw.com

Using a No-Contest Clause to Prevent Heirs from Challenging a Will or Trust

If you are worried that disappointed heirs could contest your will or trust after you die, one option is to include a “no-contest clause” in your estate planning documents. A no-contest clause provides that if an heir challenges the will or trust and loses, then he or she will get nothing.

Last Will & TestamentA no-contest clause may be a good idea if you have a beneficiary who may be upset by the property distributed to him or her. However, no-contest clauses (also called in terrorem clauses) only work if you are willing to leave something of value to the potentially disgruntled heir. You must leave the individual enough so that a challenge is not worth the risk of losing the inheritance.

Most states allow no-contest clauses, but there may be restrictions. In many states, if the contest is based on probable cause or good faith, then the no-contest clause is unenforceable. That means that if the court determines there is a good reason for the contest, the clause won’t prevent the challenging heir from inheriting. In addition, a no-contest clause may apply to some portions of your estate plan, but not others. For example, your heirs may be able to challenge your executors without violating a no-contest clause.

Two states –Florida and Indiana — will not enforce no-contest clauses no matter what. If you write your will in a state that enforces no-contest clauses and then move to Florida or Indiana, the no-contest clause will be void.

If you include a no-contest clause in your estate plan, you need to be sure there are no mistakes. If you leave out important property or aren’t clear about property in your possession, your heirs could be completely disinherited if they try to fix any mistakes.

While a no-contest clause can be a good tool, there are other ways to discourage a will contest. To contact me about Wills or this info email: info@raphanlaw.com

To subscribe to my FREE Monthly newsletter, click here.

Regards, Brian

http://Raphanlaw.com

 

The New New York Estate Tax Beware A 164% Marginal Rate

Some timely tax news from Forbes staff writer Ashlea Ebeling:

It’s no April Fool’s joke. New York state doubled its estate tax exemption as of today. And it’s set to rise gradually through 2019—if you hang on that long–to eventually match the generous federal exemption, projected to be $5.9 million by then. That will sure make planning much easier for a lot of folks, but there are still big traps in the new law to watch out for.

One trap in New York is a new “cliff,” so called because if it’s triggered you basically fall into a state estate tax abyss.

As of April 1, 2014, the exemption amount is $2,062,500.  That shields way more people from the state levy. But if you die with just 5% more than $2,062,500, you face a cliff. That means you’re taxed on the full value of your estate, not just the amount over the exemption amount.

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Here’s an example of how the new law could translate into a marginal New York estate tax rate of nearly 164%, courtesy of the New York State Society of CPAs in this comment letter on the proposed law. By the time the exemption is $5.25 million in 2017 and 2018, a decedent with a New York taxable estate of $5,512,500 (that’s 5% more than the exemption), would pay New York estate tax of $430,050. In effect, there is a New York estate tax of $430,050 on the extra $262,500. “We do not believe that this cliff is consistent with the Governor’s objectives of making New York a more favorable environment for New Yorkers during their golden years,” the letter says. Oh well.

Here’s the rundown of the new exemption schedule:

For deaths as of April 1, 2014 and before April 1, 2015, the exemption is $2,062,500.

For deaths as of April 1, 2015 and before April 1, 2016, the exemption is $3,125,000.

For deaths as of April 1, 2016 and before April 1, 2017, the exemption is $4,187,500.

For deaths as of April 1, 2017 and before January 1, 2019, the exemption is $5,250,000.

As of January 1, 2019 and after, the exemption amount will be linked to the federal amount, which the IRS sets each year based on inflation adjustments—it’s projected to be $5.9 million in 2019. The top rate remains at 16%. (The original budget and the Senate bill had proposed a top rate of 10%.)

In addition to the cliff, there are other problems with the new law. For one, there is no portability provision like in the federal law—that allows a surviving spouse to shelter twice as much without the use of complicated trusts–notes Sharon Klein, managing director of Family Office Services & Wealth Strategies with Wilmington Trust.

There’s a three-year look-back for taxable gifts (those gifts are pulled back into your estate) for gifts made on or after April 1 and before Jan. 1, 2019, but not including any gift made when the decedent wasn’t a New York state resident.

There are basis questions, depreciation questions, and different treatments of estate planning transactions under federal and New York income tax laws, says Donald Hamburg, an estate lawyer with Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe in New York City. “What’s troubling is that there are so many open questions. It’s a highly complex set of rules,”  he says.

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Regards, Brian

http://www.RaphanLaw.com

 

9 (Potential) Problems with Your Trust:

All trusts should be reviewed every few years to make sure that they are up-to-date with the law and meet your goals today. Following is a checklist of trust features you can review yourself. But be aware that these only refer to revocable “living” trusts, not to irrevocable trusts.

elder law, brian raphan,

  1. Do you have the right successor trustees? Typically you will be the trustee of your own revocable trust with your spouse as co-trustee (if you’re married). Trusts should name one or more successors in the event the original trustee or trustees are unable to serve. Make sure that you still want the successors you originally named. Also, do you want them to come on and begin acting as trustee now? And if you and your spouse are co-trustees, do you want the successor or successors to step in when the first of you becomes incapacitated or passes away, or not until neither of you can serve?
  2. Who can remove trustees? You can always change the trustees of your revocable trust. But do you want your heirs to have this right after you pass away? This can often avoid problems if there are communication problems or disagreements with the trustee. On the other hand, you might want to limit this to some extent to make sure heirs aren’t just looking for a trustee to do whatever they say.
  3. Can your spouse change the ultimate distribution of trust assets after you have passed away? Many trusts give surviving spouses a so-called power of appointment to redirect trust assets at their death. This can be important to provide for flexibility to respond to changes in family circumstances. However, this usually doesn’t make sense in second marriages. In a Massachusetts court case, the second wife used her power to give everything to her children instead of to the original beneficiaries: her deceased husband’s children. Even in the case of a first marriage, removing this provision from the trust can provide protection for children and grandchildren in case the surviving spouse remarries and becomes estranged from his family.
  4. Does your trust protect your children and grandchildren from lawsuits and divorce? You have the option of drafting your trust to continue for your children’s lives to provide creditor and divorce protection.
  5. Have you funded your trust? We often see great trust documents that don’t do all that’s intended because the clients’ assets are still titled in their names. You can avoid probate and make sure that the estate tax protections in your trust operate as planned through retitling assets in the name of the trust.
  6. Who is named as beneficiary of your retirement plans and other investments? Often clients spend hours with their attorneys crafting an estate plan to match their goals and then circumvent it through naming individuals as beneficiaries of retirement plans and investment accounts. Make sure these are all coordinated.
  7. At what age will children and grandchildren receive their inheritance? Most trusts provide that funds will remain in trust until those inheriting reach a certain age, often 21 or 25. But you can set any age you choose and even permit them to withdraw a portion of the trust at set ages, say half at 25 and half at 30, or a third each at 25, 30 and 35. This doesn’t mean that they can’t benefit from the trust assets in the meantime, but that distribution decisions are made by the trustees until children and grandchildren have more financial experience.
  8. Does your trust have provisions providing for maximum tax deferral if it is named the beneficiary of a retirement plan? While you may choose to have your retirement plans go directly to your heirs — and often this is the simplest approach — if they are going to your trust, it must have special provisions to stretch out the annual required distributions for as long as possible.
  9. Is your trust up-to-date for estate tax purposes? Congress and many states have changed the estate tax laws several times in recent years. If your trust is more than five years old, or if you lived in a different state when it was drafted, it should be reviewed by an estate planning attorney to make certain it is still current.

You can check many of these questions on your own. In fact, it’s a useful exercise to make sure that you understand what is in your trust. Other issues, particularly those related to tax issues, will require consulting with an estate planning professional.

This article also appears in our monthly email newsletter. View it here and subscribe for free.

Regards, Brian

http://www.RaphanLaw.com